Tennyson Joseph in the news again, for the usual reason: his grotesque obsession with Allen Chastanet, more often than not costumed as erudition while his not quite covered intellectual snobbery sticks out from under his star-bedecked disguise. His discombobulating preoccupation with the current prime minister is not of recent vintage: long before he even considered taking his plunge into the yucky-yucky waters of local politics, considered irreparably contaminated by an increasing number of thinking citizens, Tennyson Joseph had targeted Chastanet’s skin color and the content of his character for venomous sneak assaults altogether bereft of rhyme or reason.
Chastanet had been elected to the SLHTA’s marketing committee but a few weeks when—doubtless in the name of no-strings-attached free speech—Joseph wrote for public consumption that Chastanet’s color rendered him something of an anachronistic colonial symbol; unfit for his position “in this day and age.” Before long he had sunk deeper into the cesspool of racism, with demeaning references to the fact that Chastanet’s mother is Caucasian.
Conceivably blinded by prejudice, the advertised intellectual turned politician failed to recognize that his mentor, party leader and prime minister—whom he was at the time serving as political attaché—also had been spawned by a woman of color and her white employer, a Sussex native and owner of a local plantation.
Following the 2006 elections that removed Kenny Anthony and returned Sir John Compton to the office of prime minister, Joseph spewed more venom via the media when Allen Chastanet was invited to serve as a senator and tourism minister. Perhaps crushed by his rejection by the voters of Choiseul who declared Rufus Bousquet the superior candidate, he seemed to lose whatever was left of his dubious sense of reality that allowed him to imagine himself a shoe-in ahead of the vote count.
Among his spoken and written gems was that the octogenarian and ailing Compton may have handed Chastanet the most important portfolio of tourism minister in the mistaken belief that his color alone qualified him for his position of tourism minister.
Not long after the elections Tennyson Joseph returned to his maker, the University of the West Indies, especially famous for its generosity toward fallen over-ambitious carriers of the UWI flame. But just when it seemed fate had rescued the vulnerable Saint Lucian mind from further abuse by our intellectual giant (Kenny Anthony declared him and Didacus Jules our best brains, on the basis of their contributions to his book At The Rainbow’s Edge) something happened that returned Tennyson Joseph to the headlines. At any rate, the regional headlines.
According to a report featured in the Barbados newspaper The Nation, during a recent lecture sponsored by the UWI open campus and the LegalEase SVG Inc Tennyson Joseph had warned “against the rise of businessmen-politicians in the Caribbean” and identified Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and U.S. President Donald Trump “as examples of why businessmen as politicians are bad for society.” Further, that the region should regard the development as “a new window for the re-emergence of the Left.” He and Plato were of the same mind, he assured his audience: they shared the same negative view of businessmen-politicians. As for his once upon a time hero C. L. R. James who held that “any cook can govern,” later for him; Dr. Joseph was now deep in the comforting embrace of Greek philosophy.
Doubtless with Plato on his mind, the UWI lecturer reportedly said: “There is much evidence in the politics of the USA, the Caribbean and elsewhere that the election of persons with business experience (not the same as businessmen) and the election of persons who fail to understand that political leadership requires a specific nobility of character has compounded rather than resolved the challenges of governance or development. It is clear that not any cook can govern.”
The report did not include the “evidence” of which Joseph had spoken. Perhaps he kept it to himself. Returning to the June 6 general elections and Kenny Anthony’s defeat by “an untried and untested son of a Saint Lucian businessman,” Joseph reportedly “sought to present Chastanet as an incompetent leader.” He actually presented a clipping of the prime minister “experiencing difficulty piloting a bill in parliament.” He added that the victories of Allen Chastanet and Donald Trump were the result of the same “architectonic structural and ideological issues reflecting themselves in early contemporary 21st Century politics.” Both the Saint Lucian and American electors had assumed their countries’ problems could be resolved by business persons, rather than so-called “professional politicians.”
And all this time I was convinced, as doubtless were many other Saint Lucians, that Kenny Anthony was actually in the business of law; that he had entered politics only to do for Saint Lucians what could not be done by Compton, Allen Louisy, Winston Cenac, Vaughan Lewis, Mikey Pilgrim—all of them with roots in the business of law, save for Pilgrim whose fingers and toes had been in several other business pies, and Vaughan Lewis, generally considered “an academic who had lost his way!”
It would be instructive to hear from Tennyson Joseph whether farmers, fishers, food vendors, shop operators, all of them people engaged in business big and small, should also be denied the constitutional right to offer themselves for political office.
Obviously, what the UWI lecturer served his audience was stale fish lightly flavored with a smidgen of Plato, freshly wrapped in a sesquipedalian word or two. Also on display during his reported lecture was Joseph’s notorious penchant for non-sequiturs: having a businessman as one’s father does not automatically make one a businessman. Businessmen have been known to sire candidates for the priesthood! Actually, before entering politics Chastanet had been employed both in the private and public sectors. That he may be more familiar than most local MPs with the several problems daily encountered by the private sector cannot be a bad thing; not for local business, not for the country as a whole. Most of his predecessors had treated the private sector as some kind of blood bank for political vampires.
The fallout from Tennyson Joseph’s lecture was swift. Invited to comment on the reaction, Plato’s presumed alter ego told Newsspin’s Timothy Poleon he had anticipated the negative responses: What struck him “most significantly . . . Although I saw the comments . . . I didn’t read them, by the way. As soon as I saw the headlines I knew it was not worth reading, it was just comic relief for me. I notice that in Barbados no press has picked it up, for the simple reason that people who understand what a university is would know it was absolute nonsense. [????] For some strange reason Saint Lucia has not evolved to know what a university is. A university is not a high school. A university is not a primary school. A university is a place where people have intellectual freedom; academic freedom. When I respond to criticism, I respond to the criticism of intellectuals to what I write. If I cannot see the counter argument, the point on empirical fact on which I erred I would ignore it . . .” And let’s not forget Tennyson Joseph has always seen only what he chooses to see. He is at heart a politician whose thirst for power remains unsatisfied.
I can’t help wondering: are the tutors at local primary and high schools denied “academic freedom?” Again it would’ve been instructive to hear Joseph’s response to that. Also what he means by “academic freedom.” Does it extend past free speech rights guaranteed by our Constitution?
Responding on Monday to reporters who invited him to comment on Tennyson Joseph’s published remarks, Saint Lucia’s prime minister said the UWI lecturer had not substantiated his claims. His references to white people were nothing new. He said Tennyson Joseph had over the years published several articles he considered racist, and was “really surprised the University of the West Indies has not called him out on that and he’s still being allowed to teach students.”
No surprise that Joseph’s Labour Party colleagues quickly circled their wagons, claiming they were not surprised that the prime minister had called for the lecturer’s dismissal. After all, they noted, Joseph had “a democratic right and a public responsibility to express his views.” As if Chastanet were denied similar rights and responsibilities!
The resident director of the UWI open campus chimed in for the various purposes of TV reporters. Disappointingly, her siren’s song echoed word for word what Tennyson Joseph had earlier revealed to ever accommodating Timothy Poleon: A university is not a primary school . . . there was such a thing as academic freedom blahblahblah. The red flock that a little over a year ago had declared their 2016 campaign for reelection a “war between the Labour Party and the Chastanets” also bleated in similar fashion on Facebook and elsewhere, challenging the UWI lecturer’s critics to define “racist.” Which reminded me of Justice Stuart Potter’s: “I may not have the words to define ‘obscenity’—but I know it when I see it.”I am also reminded of Donald Trump at his press conference following last weekend’s racially-charged Charlottesville disaster, when in answer to a reporter’s question the besieged U.S. President challenged him to “tell me what you mean by the Alt-Right!”
Before his next press conference perhaps the businessman-president should consult Plato?